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Benjamin and Carolina’s Bereavement Diary
One of our volunteers lost two of her beloved bunnies in one year. She found comfort in keeping a diary with her feelings and little snapshots of her rabbits’ lives that she didn’t want to forget.
She says, “In my experience helping other rabbits – e.g. by sponsoring a shelter bunny, volunteering for an animal charity – is the best way of coping with pet loss and celebrating your rabbits’ lives. My bunnies have inspired some of Cottontails’ campaigns as well as my artwork, poems and children’s stories. These are being published on Cottontails’ website and will hopefully raise funds to help more rabbits.”
Below are 3 pages from Benjamin and Carolina’s bereavement diary. It was not originally meant for publication and the notes have been kept in the order they were written.
- Benjamin waiting by the kitchen sink to be cuddled while I did the washing-up.
- I am surprised I am not crying and I’m coping so well, then on my way home from work I burst into tears.
- The magnetic letters spelling out his name on the side of the microwave.
- I wasn’t with him when he died, he must have been afraid at the vet’s, waiting hours for his operation.
- I miss his smell and little noises [Benjamin had Pasteurella and breathed with difficulty].
- I worry I will miss him less as time goes on, forget his smell or how his ears felt when I stroked them.
- While I was burying Benjamin I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do but now I find it very comforting to sit in the sunshine next to him, to read or have my breakfast.
- I was so happy we had Christmas together, because according to the vet he didn’t have long to live. Then I looked forward to celebrating his seventh birthday in February. And when I saw the buds on the trees I thought how wonderful it would be if Benjamin lived another spring and summer, hopping around the garden, sitting in the sunshine and eating geraniums as he liked to do [Benjamin died on 3 February].
- It was lovely to see the snow on his grave a few days after he was laid to rest, so dreamy and magical. It was like winter welcoming him.
- When he realised I was awake in the mornings Benjamin would jump on the bed for cuddles. I would leave a tiny bit of bread on the bedside table with a glass of water for him to have a snack. He loved my bedside table.
- Benjamin purred softly when I scratched his sides, back and bottom, but when he had enough he would do a little twirl, and offered me his face instead.
- The pine cone he nibbled on. They toy he played with in the photo, and lots of other things I’ve forgotten.
- Benjamin begging for a bit of croissant at breakfast.
- In appearance he probably wouldn’t have been my choice of rabbit [Benjamin was a Himalayan rabbit with pink eyes], but how little do these things matter when you fall in love with a bunny. It wasn’t long before I thought he was just perfect.
- Benjamin was my office bunny so it’s hard to work without thinking of him sitting under the printer’s desk to keep me company.
- The little hollow in the hay where he used to sleep.
- Benjamin loved bread! He would cheekily drag a baguette out of the supermarket bag as soon as I got home.
- In the summer the grey patch on his nose turned to brown.
- Benjamin slept on my bed and would wait for me in the evenings.
- He would always rush to greet me when I returned from work.
- Benjamin used to sip my water (and sometimes splash it) on the bedside table.
- Benjamin hopping so gracefully.
- His sweet little dewlap.
- I feel bad about washing his blankets.
- I try not to change things around the flat, but things do change – new pieces of furniture, new cardboard boxes and new toys for the other bunnies…
- Benjamin hopping around the garden for the first time, after he’d lived at least 5 years or maybe his whole life without feeling the grass under his feet. [Benjamin lived for years on a concrete garage rooftop before arriving at my foster home alone in a cab.]
- His little yawns. Benjamin tilting his head back when I stroked him.
- I miss calling his name when I get home.
- The little hollow between his shoulder blades where he liked to be scratched.
- As I was walking down the corridor one evening, I spotted him peeping out of a cardboard box and rushed to get my camera. Little did I know those would have been his last photos.
- Before his teeth started to hurt, Benjamin would nibble on a pear if he could find it in my shopping bags.
- Benjamin used to purr a lot and I called him “my little bumblebee”.
- He was my furry alarm clock, helping me to wake up in the mornings, giving me a wonderful, warm start to the day.
- As I was walking home today I realised I no longer expected him to greet me at the front door.
- Benjamin was always friendly towards visitors and let everyone pet him.
- There was always a lot of excitement and running around my feet when I opened a bag of bread.
- Benjamin was young at heart: cheeky, smart, quick, agile and inquisitive.
- He knew when he was being cheeky, e.g. when he ran off with some bread or when he ate the squirrels’ peanuts.
- He’d pull my sandwich out of my handbag as I got ready for work in the mornings. Once he dragged it so far that I would have been without lunch if I hadn’t noticed.
- He would rub his teeth softly when I kissed him on the nose, and I buried my face in his fur.
- Even though I’m getting used to living without him, it doesn’t mean I love him any less.
- I miss his bunny smell, I can’t smell it anymore.
- “He is just a rabbit in a hutch”, said his previous owner.
- The pitter-patter of Carolina’s feet as she hops towards my bed in the middle of the night.
- Carolina playing with my long dresses – running under the skirts then sticking her head out.
- The way she guarded her home by sitting on the kitchen doorstep.
- I’ll miss her running around my feet, and waiting by the sink while I washed the vegetables the way Benjamin used to do too. I wish I could be at home with her and not have to work [Eventually I took a couple of months off work to nurse her, one of the best decisions I ever made.]
- Carolina running at full speed up and down the garden. All I had to do was call her and she’d come running to me.
- I’m slowly opening my heart to other bunnies, like Sweetpea.
- 8 months without Benjamin. I still remember what it felt like to hold my little Benjamin, how much he weighed in my arms, the softness of his fur. Carolina has gone off her food but today (the first sunny day in weeks) she is hopping around the garden nibbling on the apple and kale and running around the foster bunnies’ pen.
- Carolina seems to move less and every day she eats a little less and I have to find new ways of feeding her, mashed pear and apple, soft pieces of bread, etc. I have a couple of apple branches she nibbled just last week. But she can’t nibble on hard things anymore.
- Carolina is not doing well and her left eye is weepy.
- I am not ready to lose her. She’s 6¾ years old today. She’s coming home from the hospital tomorrow. The vet says realistically she doesn’t have very long, she’s living on borrowed time. I missed her so much yesterday when she was in hospital and so did Sweetpea.
- Last night I heard Carolina breathing noisily, so I got up and found her under an upturned basket, where she’d never gone before. She immediately rushed out to greet me. So I lay down on the floor and for the first time in several days she licked me. She gave my face a good wash!
- Her beautiful, soft brown eyes.
- She looks so small.
- Carolina died on 26 November at 11.56 am.
- I regret always being so busy while she was alive. Now these things don’t seem so important.
- The sweetest thing was when she followed me around the flat and hopped on the bed even when she was unwell.
- Carolina checking out the foster bunnies by running around their pen in the garden.
- Carolina sleeping under the rosemary bush.
- Dear Carolina, I thought I heard your footsteps on the floorboards today.
- My sweet friend and top bunny.
- I still find her bits of fur around the flat – Carolina’s dustbunnies.
- She was my baby, but not in the way people think, not a child substitute as I have never wanted children. I’ve always found friendship between different species even more wonderful, and magic.
- Sweetpea has been a great comfort. He is sweet and often hops on my bed. I’ve bonded with him more quickly than I thought.
- Drawing and listening to the radio with Carolina sitting in the dog basket under the table.
- I feel sorry for Sweetpea, who is all alone and must miss her too. He really enjoys meeting the new foster bunnies and this encourages him to hop around the garden.
- My biggest regret is all the times I worked late while my bunnies were waiting for me at home.
- Yesterday as I opened my box of art materials I remembered the last time I used them I had my little Carolina with me. I thought about the last day I painted with my bunny in the dog bed under the table, I didn’t know then it would be the last time.
- The way Carolina loved to play with my keys, and tossed them noisily around the corridor.
- It’s now over 7 months since Carolina died. And yesterday it was 15 months since Benjamin passed away. It doesn’t sound very long, yet it feels like a lifetime ago since they were here. I’ve been doing a lot of drawings of Sweetpea lately, we’ve become very close now that the Benjamin and Carolina are gone.
- Watching Peanut and Sweetpea in the garden, I remember when my little Carolina used to turn her ears to listen to me.
- Carolina jumping on the sun lounger while I was sunbathing.
- This morning I woke up to a blanket of snow and a picture-postcard view of the garden. It reminded me of Carolina hopping on the snow. I opened the door to let Sweetpea and Peanut out but even though Peanut stepped on the patio, she didn’t venture on the snow. [Peanut is a foster bunny I later adopted as a friend for Sweetpea.]
- Carolina’s little toothmarks on the kitchen door, where she tried to open it. The nibbled skirting board I now treasure.
- Carolina would lie down in the middle of the corridor so I wouldn’t miss her when I walked in and out of rooms and would give her extra cuddles.
- When I had a bath last night there was no bunny waiting for me to get out of the bathroom, like Carolina used to do.
- Sitting on the kitchen step with Carolina napping on the wooden ledge beside me. That was her place.
- Yesterday as I put Peanut down on the floor I remembered how Carolina would have thumped in protest after being picked up.
First Day with Carolina
16 years ago this was our first full day together
and our new life was beginning.
You’d spent your first night under the washing basket
and Juliet took a Polaroid of me holding you.
I can still see you hopping around the kitchen full of beans
and how I worried I wouldn’t look after you properly.
But most of all I remember the love I felt for you right away
and all the happy years ahead.
When Carolina was here
she loved to play with the dustpan and brush
while I cleaned the floor,
she would pick them up
and toss them around enthusiastically
while I cheered her on.
I’d forgotten all this until yesterday
when I was sweeping bits of hay and straw near Buttercup’s bed
then the memories came flooding back.
Looking at Carolina, Benjamin and Sweetpea
I remember one day
I stopped washing the dishes or tidying up the kitchen,
looked at Carolina, Benjamin and Sweetpea
and felt such happiness.
“It’s perfect,” I thought,
“They’re friends, healthy and content.
I don’t wish for anything else.”
Yet so often I’m too busy to stand still
even for a minute
and be grateful for all I have,
the wonderful everyday things
that can be taken away so easily.
These poems are taken from “Poems for Peanut”, which will gradually be published on Cottontails’ website.
Buttercup Chewed Much More Sofa Than I Thought
A year and three months after you passed away
we’ve moved the sofa out of the conservatory
while we renovate it,
and that’s when I see the upholstery in the back corner
has been thoroughly chewed.
“Buttercup!” is my first reaction
followed by bittersweet thoughts
of when you spent your afternoons under the sofa
not sleeping – as I’d thought – but chewing!
You were shy, playful, clever and wonderful,
and that’s why I’ll never forget you, Buttercup.
Buttercup Likes to Be Kissed
I remember Buttercup loved to push his muzzle
under Dandelion’s head to be licked again and again
but when it was Dandelion’s turn to be kissed
he only got one or two licks.
Buttercup’s Apple Tree
The apple tree I bought for you last year
has grown, Buttercup
and takes pride of place in my new garden
with its red and yellow apples.
I can still see where I cut off the twigs
I gave you for breakfast every morning
and whenever I water it
I think of you, little one.
When the time comes
to leave this life
go softly, sweet rabbit
and don’t be afraid.
For I wish you peaceful dreams
while you are asleep
and hope you will remember:
all the happy years,
that you’ll be loved forever
and made the world better.
This is a poem to celebrate the life
of a little grey Rabbit with a great personality
who went to Heaven today leaving a big gap in our lives.
This sweet Rabbit had wonderful qualities:
he was warm, happy and friendly to everybody
– you couldn’t help loving him.
And these were some of his delightful habits:
keeping his fur shiny and clean
watching TV in the evenings
taking food from your hand
and dancing on the carpet to entertain guests!
China, Chervil, Ted the tortoise and all the sweet cats
Harry, Carolina and Anne (his Mom)
were sad to see him go and miss their bunny friend
here’s a Rabbit they’ll never forget!
So Goodbye dear Rabbit
wherever you are
we are sending you this poem
Grieving for a pet is one of the hardest things. In a way, it’s worse than coping with the death of a human being, because animals are so innocent. You can’t temper the pain with memories of a harsh word they spoke, or a moment when they hurt you. Because they never gave you anything but joy, love and trust, and you feel (irrationally) that you failed them, because you couldn’t save them from those last awful days. You couldn’t use your brains to protect them from that final moment.
Before Willow died, I couldn’t think of this time without dread, because the idea of her not being around was so horrible. Only when it happened did I realise it was also inconceivable. I couldn’t believe that I would never see her again. Actually, worse. That no one would see her again, because she simply didn’t exist. I felt like there was an enormous gap somewhere inside me, and then I knew for the first time that she wasn’t just a pet that I loved, but that she was actually part of me. In fact, for a couple of weeks, I couldn’t even tell anyone she had died. People are always asking how “the girls” are, and I would simply say, “Oh, fine”. I didn’t feel that I was deceiving them, though. I do have two bunnies, it’s just that one of them is dead, but she’s still my bunny and always will be.
But the trouble is that society does not allow a serious grown up to fully mourn a pet. You don’t see bereavement leave for pet death written into employment contracts (it should be); and only children are supposed to be overwhelmed by the loss of an animal. There is some acceptance of grief for a dog, and to a lesser extent, a cat, but one is supposed to get over it and move on fairly quickly. Whereas the truth is that life is life. Willow is a family member, it just happened that she came in bunny shape, and we ended up in human form. And death is death, whether it comes to a human or a dog or a cat or a little bunny, and the impact is just as hard.
No more laughs. No more funny stories. Only tears. My little Willow, my friend, my little soulmate, is dead. She died the other night and I watched her do it. That and so many other bitter scenes replay themselves constantly in my head. It didn’t look like an easy death, but she made no sound – didn’t cry, didn’t scream – just looked like she was fighting an unseen foe, then collapsed. One second she was with me, the next she was gone. I’ve never seen death before, so not only am I dealing with her never being here any more, but also I now know that I never understood death before. I always thought that it was simply the end of living. Now that I’ve seen it, I know that it has real presence. I couldn’t see what she was fighting, it was invisible. But I felt it was there.
It had been an ugly day – high winds and thick snow, then sleet and freezing rain, and a grey sky, and it’s funny, but when she died the sleet stopped and the wind died down. I felt as though the elements had come to take her away, and I’d battled them all day, but in the end they won. When I eventually told my husband of this crazy idea I had, he just said, “Well, the elements always win. You can’t fight nature”. And I guess he was right. She was sick, she’d had her life, and it was time for her to go.
But it’s funny how you’re overwhelmed by clichés at times like this. Like asking people I know who’ve died to take care of her; like not wanting to bury her because the worms will eat her beautiful body – what does she care? She’s dead.
And the little things that swell over you in suffocating waves, like remembering her love of life and people, her constant curiosity and bravery, her never failing calm trust. And not seeing her in all the familiar places. And not being able to call out “Hi, girls!” when I come home in the evenings, and “Goodnight, girls, sleep well and sweet dreams”, when I go to bed at night. Because now there’s only Tansy.
At least that’s one good thing. Tansy is her old self, and doesn’t seem at all affected, to my surprise. I thought she’d be lost without Willow. There’s always been Willow. Willow stepping aside to let Tansy eat first from the food dish, Tansy snoozing with her head resting on Willow’s tummy – and yet if anything, Tansy seems energised, leaping and racing around like a young bunny again. Not me, though. I will be able to remember the good times with pleasure, but not yet.
Willow, it’s been a privilege to know you. You have been a charming companion, and every second spent in your company has been magical. You’ve shown me a world I never knew existed, and set me an example in generosity and forgiving, and innocent joy in life.
Thanks for everything. All my love,
Tansy the Brave
Tansy’s eighth birthday was by all accounts, quite a jolly affair. It was attended by the cream of society, i.e. Tansy, and when all the hullabaloo had died down, and we sat, side by side, I with my feet up and Tan stretched out with back legs to one side, we agreed that, all in all, a good time was had by everyone.
The day had begun with the gift unwrapping ceremony, although Tansy was hard pressed to say which she had enjoyed the most – ripping off the rustling paper, or the gift itself, a tiny tinkling windchime, topped by a ceramic bunny bearing an uncanny resemblance to Tansy herself, and which had captured her interest for all of 20 seconds. Finally she concluded that the highlight of the day was probably the Bunny Birthday Banquet, a smorgasbord of delicacies such as baby broccoli leaves, Italian parsley, and heart of celery.
So as we sat there, she and I, we reminisced about the last eight years, from the time when she and Willow introduced me to the wondrous world of bunnies. Tansy the Brave was always full of spirit, even as a baby, and despite being the tiniest bunny I have seen, would not hesitate to defend her rights. Thus as an adolescent, she developed the art of ambush. She would hide in a box, then as I passed into her territory, she would fly out,
scuffle with my feet, then zip back into the box. Thankfully that phase lasted only one month.
Then there was the time when, in a fit of youthful exuberance, she chewed a hole in the wall (ha ha ha! She and I had a good chuckle about that one!), then for good measure, marked out the baseboards by gnawing them at regular intervals into an attractive shell-like pattern. But she quickly matured into a very good bunny, the gentlest of bunnies, who accepted everything with good grace, never grumbled or complained, but simply carried on with whatever life dealt her. The old spirit remained however, as she pluckily rallied from every illness, and took such delight in the simple joys around her. She developed new interests, such as mountaineering the stairs, and when she was ready to return to Bunny Base Camp, she would hop down in her precise, neat fashion, until the last two steps. Suddenly she would launch herself off and fly through the air, making my heart pound with anxiety, but always landing with perfect precision on the ground
Yes, we agreed, we had had some great times together, and I thanked her for showing me delights I never knew existed, and for teaching me all about grace, dignity and true strength. I told her I loved her very much, then she looked at me, edged closer, looked at me again, edged closer still, then finally leaned over and for the longest time, licked my face, nose, eyes and forehead with great tenderness. It was as though she was saying, “You know, Yasmin, you’re all right”.
Two months later Tansy began to get slow, like a little clockwork bunny winding down. Gradually she faded, until in the early hours of one morning she drifted away like a soft breeze. That night I had dreamed that a black Shadow Bunny had come to take her away, and I had leapt between them and driven it away, but I guess that was just a dream, because I found her beautiful little body quite stiff and empty of her spirit. I have heard it said that when humans die, someone they knew comes to guide them through the next step of the journey. Maybe that black bunny of my dream was Willow. At any rate, I miss Tansy more than I can say, and I know that she, like Willow, will never be out of my thoughts. I am so very proud – proud to have known them, proud of them, and proud that they will always be with me, reminding me of wonder and fun and how to conduct my existence.
Willow and Tansy forever!
Wild Rose – One of Nature’s Most Wonderful Flowers
In our search for teachers and role models, I think that we are often oblivious to some of the greatest tutors of all. I have learned some of the most important lessons from animals that I have been privileged to know.
When we adopted Wild Rose a few months ago, it was obvious that she came with medical problems. She bore signs of having had headtilt at some point, and had a history of UTIs. She walked with some difficulty, and x-rays later proved that she had an old back injury, possibly as a result of the abuse she and Bryony had suffered.
Yet Mighty Bunny Wild Rose never slowed down for a second. She had nerves of steel, with no fear of anything. Although she was a little tyke when she came to live with us, and would nip and growl whenever you came near her, when she realized that no one would hurt or torment her, she quickly became a tiny sweetheart, so much that I began to call her Sweet Rosy. She would race up to me to be petted, and she would follow me everywhere, with no thought for danger. She trusted that I would take care of her.
The room she shared with Bryony was a Bunny Adventure Playground, with boxes, tubes, and ramps. Every day Wild Rose was thrilled when she started racing and climbing, and she was continually exhilarated by her freedom. As her back legs weren’t too flexible, though, sometimes she slipped after vaulting on top of a box – not that it bothered her! She just picked herself up and carried on having fun. Still, I didn’t want her to get hurt, so I velcroed towels to the boxes and ramps, so she had non-slip surfaces to play on. However, the rug that covered the ramp didn’t quite reach its end, so its smooth and slippery surface was exposed. Bryony would hop down to the point where the rug ended, then jump off on to the carpet. Wild Rose’s style was to rush headlong straight down, then when she reached the slippery part, she would sit on her bottom and slide the rest of the way, with a dramatic leap off at the end. You could just hear her saying, “Wheeee!”.
Her UTIs recurred a couple of times, and we treated her with antibiotics. Then one Friday night she seemed disoriented, and had difficulty using her back legs at all. A thorough medical, including x-rays, revealed back trauma in the sacral area, and bladder sludge, with a dense area that may have been a stone. She had a steroid injection and we continued with the antibiotics twice a day, and we frequently washed the urine from her rear end and legs, applying diaper rash ointment after a thorough drying. We also continued to clean her ears, as we had done since she came to us, as she already had difficulty in balancing on her back legs and so was unable to reach her ears herself.
When the infection was finally under control, she regained the use her legs, and then we turned our attention to the bladder sludge. We were nervous about performing surgery, as she was almost 8 years old, and although it is possible to prevent sludge through the correct diet, no one knew of a way to use diet to break up stones and sludge. I switched her to timothy-based pellets, and I eliminated all vegetables that are high in calcium, and then we attempted a bladder flush. Her doctor, Dr. Erik Petersen, had expressed her bladder a couple of times, and forced out quite a bit of sludge, so now we were ready to finish the job. When he tried to insert a catheter, however, he found she was too small, so he doped her up with valium so that she was too relaxed to resist and tense up inside, then he held her upright, while expressing the bladder. A huge pile of sludge came whooshing out with the urine, and when he then took an x-ray, he saw that her bladder looked completely normal.
Throughout all this treatment, Wild Rose remained as feisty as ever, still eating constantly and racing around. When I brought her home from the hospital, she was so woozy that she was wobbling, and her head was waving all over the place. As soon as she caught a whiff of the food dish, though, she suddenly came to and lay with her head in the dish, gobbling down pellets and veggies as though she’d been starved for a week. Nothing seemed to slow her down or stem her determination to enjoy life.
We continued to nurse her intensely for the next few weeks, and she bounced back very quickly. Her legs and feet had lost all their fur, but that regrew rapidly, and soon she was a bundle of energy once more. There was a new development, however, when one day I found her right eye was permanently closed and weeping, so then we added the application of eye ointment to our twice-daily routine.
I thought we had finally discovered all her medical problems, and thanks to her determination to pull through, I was sure we were prepared enough to sustain her for a good while longer, when suddenly she became very ill. She was very weak and disoriented, and in spite of constant nursing, she went downhill very quickly after a week. Things were so serious that I knew I should make that horrible decision, but selfishly I was trying everything I could to make her well again. Robin Rysavy was coming up to spend the weekend with us, and I suppose I was hoping that she would draw on her great knowledge and experience and work a miracle. There are some things that you just can’t fix, though, and when Robin saw Wild Rose, she said that she had advanced e. cuniculi had no doubt had it for years, but boy was she fighting it! Thanks to Robin’s guidance, we were able to make a last attempt to pull her through, including a dash to the emergency clinic, but by Saturday morning, it was obvious to everyone that it was time, as she just lay on her side wrapped in a blanket, grinding her teeth and twitching. We carried her over to Bryony so they could say good-bye, then took her to the clinic at lunchtime. We all kissed her and stroked her as she died. It was very peaceful and I was relieved that her suffering was over, but I felt so bad that she wasn’t around anymore, and I still do.
I also felt terrible because I had ended the life of one who I loved so much, although it was absolutely the right thing to do. She was definitely in the final stages, and her pain would only have got worse. When she came to us at Easter, I knew she was old and sick, so she wouldn’t be around for long, but I thought we’d have more time with her than this. But as I said to her as she lay dying, “Well, little one, we haven’t known you very long, but you couldn’t have been more loved”. I do feel a bit cheated, though. After such a hard little life, she finally landed in luxury bunny quarters, only to be taken away a few months later, and I know she didn’t want to go.
Caring for an elderly rabbit is not for everyone. You have little time together and you know that a lot of that time will involve battling illnesses and the conditions of old age. However, I feel grateful that I had an opportunity to balance out some of the wrongs certain humans had done, and to ensure that at least her last few months and her final ending were good. How often do we have the chance to make that great a difference in someone’s life?
The one thing that is bothering me now is that because we had so little time together, I don’t know if Rosikins knows how much I love her. I hope she understands. Meanwhile I’ve asked Willow and Tansy to take care of her. She’s such a tiny little thing I don’t want her going into the unknown on her own without any friends to care for her. She’ll get on so well with them. She gets on well with everybody. And that’s the knowledge she has left me with. No matter what experience life deals you, and in spite of constant pain and discomfort, never let it colour your hopes for the future. Treat every new experience with excitement, and trust in every new friend. Expect that fun times and love are just around the corner. Thanks, Wild Rose, enormous spirit in a tiny body! We are very lucky to have known you. All our love, always.
Can’t Get Used to Losing You
When we first acquire our pets, we seldom give a thought to the fact that we will probably outlive them. At some stage we will have to cope with the death of our beloved bunny, whether through natural causes, misfortune or euthanasia. Indeed many of us will have already suffered this or will even at this moment be faced with difficult decisions because bunny is seriously ill.
The bond between bunny and ourselves can be very strong. Our rabbits are important members of the family, considering the unconditional love and enjoyment that they give, so the gap that remains when we lose them can feel just as large as if we had lost a close relative.
It is therefore important to allow ourselves to grieve and we can go through a whole range of emotions from deep sadness to anger and frustration. Anger that our pets have left us and anger at ourselves for not being able to prevent it. We may also have feelings of guilt, for example, if we didn’t realise how ill our bunny was. We may worry that we could have done more or we may have had to make a decision about euthanasia. Such decisions involve considering what is best for our rabbit even if it is going to hurt us and though we know it is for the best it is still a very hard decision to have to make. Although it is not easy, we must try to avoid torturing ourselves with guilt.
Shock, anger, frustration, guilt, depression – all of these emotions and reactions are perfectly normal and we shouldn’t feel that there is something wrong with us if it seems to be taking a long time to come to terms with the situation. Everyone is different and we must work through our feelings at our own pace and in our own way. Some will have friends around us who understand or who are also missing our pet and we can talk to them. Others who have not cared for a pet can find it hard to understand just how much of a loss we have suffered – their thinking being “it was only a rabbit, pull yourself together”. As with any bereavement our emotional and physical wellbeing can be affected and even compounded if we feel that we are not getting the sympathy we need. This is where befriending schemes can help. Support from people who know what you are going through and can lend a sympathetic ear can make all the difference and help to start the healing process. Once we realise that what we are feeling is normal there are things we can do to help ourselves cope.
The final resting-place should be thought about. If your pet is euthanased the vet may arrange cremation or you may prefer to take your rabbit home to be buried in a favourite spot in the garden. Nowadays there are also pet crematoriums that can arrange services. If you cannot take your pet home, consider planting a tree or buying a plant as a living reminder. Hold a memorial service if you feel like it. This can help if you weren’t there at the end. It is important to feel that we have said our goodbyes. We must accept our loss before we can move forward.
In time although you will never forget your bunny, the sadness becomes easier to cope with. Express yourself with poetry or even just writing about your bunny and what they got up to can help. Put up a framed photo or create an album dedicated to them. It is normal to feel down from time to time even long after your bunny is gone but you should focus on the happy times you had together and be grateful for having been lucky enough to experience such companionship. Don’t forget about other members of the family who may be grieving too or your bunny may have had a bunny friend who will be missing them also. If you have children, this may be their first experience of death so encourage them to talk about what has happened and how they feel about it.
Once the negative feelings lessen we can start to be more positive and look to the future. In time you may consider caring for a new friend – some people take on new pets immediately but don’t be forced into this if you don’t feel ready. You will know when the time is right. If you do not yet feel ready for long-term commitment consider being a foster carer or get involved as a volunteer for a local rescue centre. There is no need to feel disloyal. If you rescue a bunny from a shelter you will be saving another life and it will be a totally new relationship. You are not trying to replace your bunny but one positive factor is that the experience of caring for your late bunny has shown that you can give a rabbit a good home. There are plenty of rescue rabbits just waiting for someone like you. Your late bunny will have taught you many things so you are well qualified and what better way to repay your bunny for his unconditional love than by rescuing another one.
So whether you have had your rabbit for a short time or for many years; whether they have suffered a long illness or a sudden death, we are never quite prepared for their departure. A whole range of emotions will be experienced and with such deep feelings involved we must allow ourselves to grieve. Yes it hurts, but it will get easier. Nothing can bring your bunny back but you can be thankful for the times you shared and eventually you will be able to look back on happy memories without feelings of regret. In time you can turn your negative feelings into positive actions so that you can get over the grief and move forward.
In memory of Rosie, who died just before her first birthday
Wet paw prints on wooden floorboards
always by my side.
Cold in the garden – I bear it
just to see you happy.
I hear your little gurgles as I hold you in my arms,
I hear you speak to me
a sound almost inaudible to human ears
my little summer bunny.
Beautiful little soul
the angels sent you to me,
you spark a fire in my heart little creature.
I can feel it – the love so strong
pierces the very essence of my life.
Little soul, a jewel in my hands
I’ll take care of you, protect you, I’ll love you.
Little Bunny with a Sweet Grey Nose
How will I remember you, now that you’re gone?
Like a little willow leaf
or pink sweet peas in bloom
a baby sparrow flying free
a squirrel curled up in his nest, in a tree.
A fur bundle of sweetness
a gentle breeze blowing through my soul
the song of a nightingale
the glinting ripples on a stream.
The sunshine on days when there’s not a ray of light
the comfort I felt when I kissed you goodnight.
A little twig, in the dip of a dell
a shooting star
a whisper of hair
a glass-winged butterfly
a velvet red kiss.
The crisp early morning air
and the nudging on my ankle when no one is there.
The memory of you can never leave me
your sweet brown velvet eyes are engraved in my heart
When Only the Love Remains
The poems in this book trace my journey through the first year of grief, following the death of my precious pet rabbit, Poochie. This book is about the love for an animal and the pain of losing her. It is my final farewell to her.
Many people think of rabbits as cute little animals that sit in cages and wiggle their noses. Poochie was never caged in her short life; she had full run of most of the apartment that my husband and I inhabit. Also, due to all of the attention that she constantly received, she became the most loving and affectionate animal that I have ever known in my life. I know that I became a better person for having known her and I had never experienced such a close relationship with an animal before this one.
She talked to me daily through her incredible body language, and of course, there was never a question of who was the boss. She was, of course! My husband Jim and I had many wonderful terms of endearment for her, one of which was “granny” because she always got her way, and another, “the Queen of England” because of her poise and regal manner.
There is a reason that we called her “Poochie”. On her first day with us, I fed her a treat of bran cereal; she gobbled it up, proceeded to sit up on her tiny haunches and beg for more. Just like a puppy! Thus, the name “Poochie” was born, along with the start of many cherished moments and adventures.
Poochie was my very beautiful castor-coloured Mini Rex rabbit. She had a gorgeous, creamy white tummy, black gloves on her front paws, a creamy-coloured line around each brown eye and under her jaw, and the most amazing dark brown dewlap (a fold of loose skin hanging from her throat). My husband and I bought her from the Meadowood Petland in St. Vital, Winnipeg, when she was just eight weeks old; I could hold her in my cupped hands. We had just lost our precious Thumper, an eleven-and-a-half-year-old Dutchbelt bunny, from cardiomyopathy and old age. I will never forget Dawn, the lovely, kind lady that sold Poochie to us. She had – a rabbit friend as well. Dawn understood our pain of losing Thumper and our excitement in getting a new member of our family.
The bond that I shared with Poochie was one that only the heart comprehends. She was a sweet, gentle, and loving animal. We were the best of friends, soul mates; we ate, played, and slept together. Losing her created a huge void for me that no one can ever replace. Poochie taught me the greatest lesson in her short life – love to your fullest capacity each and every day.
The grief from the loss of a beloved animal is not one easily discussed in our society. This stigma that our society has, of not accepting this grief, causes many people to suppress their feelings, hindering the so-needed healing from taking place. One must go through the grieving process in order “to go on with” one’s life – such a difficult thing! We grieve because we love them, miss them, want them back, hold them in the highest esteem, and will never forget them. Many people are very embarrassed by their intense feelings of grief over “just an animal”, and they or others trivialize the death. This prevents them from accepting their painful feelings as normal ones and from releasing them in healthy ways.
In her book, How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies, Therese A. Rando states that “in many cases, the loss of a pet is as profound and far-reaching as the loss of a human family member. The human-animal bond can be as intense and meaningful as any human-human bond, and it must be accorded the same respect, both in life and in death.”
Sorrow is the cost for having loved so deeply. I realized that losing my special friend was even more devastating than losing a family member. I never felt embarrassed by my feelings over Poochie’s death – after all, they were very normal to someone who had just lost their dearest friend. You must remember that the bond is very different with an animal, and can’t be put into words.
Many people resent ascribing human qualities and feelings to pets, known as anthropomorphism. I believe that animals have the same feelings as humans and they show us this every single day of their precious lives. Although my poems express much of the pain and sorrow that I experienced after her loss, they also tell the story of her life and our love for each other.
She was not just a rabbit; she was my very special “Poochie”. Almost everyone has had a “Poochie” in their lives. She symbolizes the love that many cannot admit and the love that everyone should experience just once in a lifetime. This is a celebration of her glorious life and the important role that animals play in our lives. She taught me more about love and life than most people. They heal our moods when we are sad, help the lives of countless handicapped people, and teach us to love unconditionally.
My reasons for writing this book are many. Firstly, I needed to deal with my own intense grief after the sudden death of Poochie. She was like a child to me; the dearest thing to me in my life. The day after her death, I began writing about every detail of the days before, on, and after her death, over and over again. My deep feelings of shock, pain, denial, sorrow, heartbreak, loneliness, emptiness, anger, guilt, and some acceptance came out in all of these poems. My writing has helped me to remove these painful feelings and to resolve much turmoil and confusion associated with her death. I did discover, though months later, that many of my confused feelings came from the fact that one is often very disoriented and in a daze following the death of a loved one.
I was eventually able to come to terms with her death after many months of saying, “I can’t believe that Poochie is dead!” Over a year after her death, I still carry some pain, although it is manageable and has diminished over time. The missing is still, at times, overwhelming, but I don’t believe that one ever completely gets over the death of any living being, human or animal, that was loved so intensely. You learn to live with the pain.
Writing was definitely not the only way that I dealt with my pain. I cried constantly and appreciated the fact that I could cry. There is at least a teardrop for every word that I wrote. Crying releases many of the toxins produced by the body during periods of stress and is, therefore, a very healthy way to release pain. No, crying wasn’t going to bring my Poochie back, but that’s why I cried, because she wasn’t coming back, not ever! One of the hardest things to deal with was the painful reality that I would never see her again; the permanence of this separation.
Secondly, I felt that these poems would be a fitting testimonial to my little animal friend who gave such meaning to my life. I really didn’t know just how I was going to live without her; but I have, one moment at a time and one day at a time. This book is my greatest tribute to her, next to loving and cherishing her each day of her life.
Thirdly, it is my wish that these writings will give you the permission that you so desperately require to grieve for your dear pet. Perhaps they can help you to know that you are not alone in your sorrow. Sometimes, you need to immerse yourself in a sad movie, song, or book, realizing that there is no quick escape from your feelings. People need to know that just because I am bursting with happiness, doesn’t mean I’m finished grieving. Also, just because I still cry, doesn’t mean I’m having a breakdown. After watching a story on television about the incredible bond that existed between a young woman with cerebral palsy and her loyal dog, I was brought to tears. A beautiful jet black Labrador jumped on the wall, turned the light switch off at bedtime, and dove into bed with his joyous owner. I recalled my life with Poochie and realized that this lady, one day, would know exactly how I feel.
May you work through your own pain and sadness as you read my poems. May you find some comfort and peace during your most sorrowful moments and perhaps, be inspired to write some special words about your own experiences with pet loss. It is my hope that this book can help those who walk in a similar journey to mine. I know and understand the pain of pet loss and have attained some peace with the sorrow, enough to put it into words. I’ve found Poochie again, through my writing. Finally, real healing, I think, comes from the passing on of one’s love for the departed to others who come after.
Emily Margaret Stuparyk
Where have you gone,
my darling Poochie bear?
Where are you now,
my precious bunny bear?
Hopping in clover meadows,
where happiness knows no bounds;
skipping in fragrant grasslands,
where contentment can be found.
Cavorting with your rabbit friends,
where energy never wanes;
grooming and licking each other,
as loving is never feigned.
But what about me,
my darling Poochie bear?
What will I do,
my precious bunny bear?
Cry rivers of sadness,
’til finally one day,
I’ll hold you in my arms,
and forever, we will stay.
My Little Palomino
She gallops towards me with a shake of her ears,
my little palomino!
She lowers her head and presents herself to me,
o little palomino!
Always so loyal and ever forgiving,
always so gentle and ever endearing,
my darling palomino!
She’s not a small pony, no phony,
as you may have thought,
a term of endearment, you see I have sought;
for my lovely creature has ears a bit longer,
and this furry pet knows that she is much stronger,
much stronger, ha, ha!
And even though bunnies are famous for hopping,
this precious rabbit just loves to go trotting!
He came one day, so fine and clear, his eyes, they were so shiny and dear;
One ear was brown, the other white, the days, so filled with joy and delight.
He loved to race around the room, and oh, the fun when he did groom;
he loved to dig on quilts of fluff, but never, was there a bunny so tough.
Finally, nothing lasts forever, you know, so keep that in mind as they live and they grow;
the end was painful, but he never left, he stayed in our hearts and quietly slept.
The Flowers In Their Feet
So gracefully, they groom themselves,
very regularly with such style;
always licking fur,
joyously stroking ears,
cleaning faces like tiny babies;
when they stretch those
huge, hind feet,
awaiting you, fantastic surprises,
they spread their toes
forming a furry flower
in every grooming round.
Emily Margaret Stuparyk